For most of us, the question “Where are Oakland’s black artists?,” isn’t really a question at all. We know black artists to be alive and thriving, adding a diverse perspective to the Bay Area art scene.
But East Bay Express’ Art Editor, Sarah Burke, reminds us that there’s more to the question than we might know.
Burke leads the piece noting that “In the face of gentrification, local Black artists and curators are working to ensure that no one ever needs to ask where they are, or whether they’ve been here all along,” before moving into a much larger story of Oakland’s Oakstop and the work of artist and historiographer, Samella Lewis.
Burke also interviewed our co-founder khoLi. for the story.
During the past year, Black writer and poet Carrie Kholi posted numerous selfies on Instagram with the hashtag “#BlackGirlGradSchool.” It was her last year in graduate school at Rutgers University, and she finished writing her dissertation while living in Oakland. Her doctoral thesis looks at how works by Black authors such as Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, and Toni Cade Bambara, were received by critics and then examines those critiques for implicit bias. Kholi — much like Samella Lewis in her introduction to Black Artists on Art — explores the idea that, even if we don’t realize it, works of art and other cultural products are often judged against a standard that privileges some groups over others.
The concept of implicit bias is also one that Moorhead felt she needed to make a conscious effort to work against at Krowswork. It also could explain the uneasiness that many Black artists feel when they walk into white-owned galleries. And, it could encompass what Lewis and Parham are aiming to combat with the inclusivity of their Black Artists on Art project. “Oakland seems like such an open place, but there’s clearly that trace of implicit bias and I think that it comes from ideas of power and who gets to say that your art is necessary,” Kholi said.
Another example of implicit bias in the art world is when curators judge an artist’s capability by his or her résumé rather than the work. Despite the fact that Kholi had never had a showing in a gallery before, Anyka Barber, the director of Betti Ono Gallery in downtown Oakland, reached out to Kholi and another queer, female artist of color to create a show for the gallery’s fourth anniversary last year. In an interview, Barber pointed out that most galleries decide who they want to show based on credentials — like past shows, appearances in publications, and academic degrees. But those accomplishments can be more easily achieved if one comes from a higher level of socioeconomic privilege.
To read the full article and find out about Black Artists on Art, CLICK HERE.